WASHINGTON – At a Judiciary Committee hearing on the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) handling of the Larry Nassar investigation, U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) emphasized the need to reform how the FBI and federal law enforcement officers respond to sexual assault.
Klobuchar highlighted the importance of passing her bicameral, bipartisan legislation with Senator Cornyn (R-TX), the Abby Honold Act, which provides grants to encourage law enforcement’s use of trauma-informed techniques when responding to sexual assault crimes to avoid re-traumatizing victims. She also questioned FBI Director Christopher Wray on what the agency is doing to ensure agents communicate allegations of sexual assault with local law enforcement.
Klobuchar: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you, both of you, for your work. Director Wray, this morning we heard from Aly, McKayla, Maggie, and Simone. We saw the incredible courage on display under these bright lights in front of cameras, speaking with such clarity and determination. Before we talk about what went wrong and what’s happening, and I know you’ve been mentioning this – I was on the Senate floor – but could you talk more about your personal reaction to what you heard this morning and what you’ve learned in the course of this investigation?
Director Wray: In some ways, I’ve run out of adjectives, and in other cases certain colorful language that would not be appropriate for me to use in a congressional hearing room, but I was heartsick, I was furious, I was outraged, I was bewildered, because as I said to a number of your colleagues, this is not the FBI that I see every single day, including the people who work on this particular program and the kinds of failures that are detailed in Inspector General Horowitz’s report are just beyond the pale. And that’s why the supervisory special agent most responsible for the case has been fired. I wish I could go back and change the past of what happened in 2015 and 2016, I can’t tell you how much I wish I could go back and change the past, but I can’t. What I can do is use the painful lessons from this case to make sure every single person in the FBI understands what I expect of them, what the American people expect of them, so this never happens again.
Klobuchar: In your view, what’s the most important step that the FBI is taking right now in response to the Inspector General’s findings?
Director Wray: Well, I would say – of course, there are a whole bunch of things – but I think there’s a recurring theme through the changes that we’ve implemented in response to Inspector General Horowitz’s recommendations, and the biggest one is to ensure that there can’t be a single point of failure. Can’t be a single point of failure in terms of reporting to state, local law enforcement, can’t be a single point of failure in terms of transferring cases between field offices, can’t be a single point of failure in terms of making decisions about responding with the appropriate urgency when the allegations come in, and so forth. And we’re amplifying that through policies, procedure changes, additional checks and safeguards, training, and some fairly tough talk between me and the top 600 people in the FBI.
Klobuchar: And just along those lines, according to the IG report, state and local law enforcement did not receive any information from the FBI’s Indianapolis or Los Angeles field offices about the investigations. The IG report found that the prudence and – this is their quote from the report – that “prudence and sound judgment dictated that the LA field office should have notified local authorities upon developing this serious evidence of sexual assault.” What steps are you taking to ensure that the agents communicate allegations of sexual assault with local law enforcement?
Director Wray: So we’ve enhanced our policies and procedures on specific issues of reporting to state and local law enforcement, built in now they have to document it, which they didn’t have to before, and that builds in, as Inspector General Horowitz referred to, an ability to hold them accountable. They have to alert their supervisors so there’s a second set of eyes, so that would help. We’ve also enhanced our training to make clear that it’s mandatory and that’s regardless of whether there’s some question about potential federal jurisdiction. We can continue to investigate if there’s federal jurisdiction, but we have to – on a parallel track – report to the appropriate state and local, or in some cases social services, agencies as well.
Klobuchar: Okay. Last question. For many years, I’ve worked with Senator Cornyn on the Abby Honold Act due to the experience of a victim who’s been very courageous, like the victims today, and come forward, which would encourage law enforcement’s use of trauma-informed techniques when responding to sexual assault crimes to avoid retraumatization of the victim and to improve communication between the victim, law enforcement -- some of which we’ve talked about today, some of which we heard from the gymnasts this morning. Can you describe what steps the FBI is taking to ensure that when agents interact with victims, they’re using interview techniques that are appropriate, work, that don’t retraumatize them, and does the FBI have sufficient resources to support the use of child and adolescent forensic interviewers during investigations involving minors?
Director Wray: So I appreciate the question. There’s two pieces of this. One is the child/adolescent forensic interviewers, which again is a very specific discipline, requires very specific sensitivities and skillsets, and we’ve changed our policies to reinforce the use of those interviewers for these kinds of cases. Second is our Victim Services Division, and one of the things that we changed, even before receiving Inspector General Horowitz’s report, on my watch, is to make clear that the victim services that we provide, which is a little bit different from the forensic interviewing part of it, but it’s also very important to handling these survivors with the appropriate sensitivity, that that is triggered at any stage. There is not just a full investigation, but when we’re in the assessment or pre-assessment phase, it has to happen there too. So both the child/adolescent forensic interviewers and the victim services, more use of that. As I mentioned in response to Senator Feinstein’s question, the scale of this kind of criminality in the country, as reflected by the 18,000 investigations that we’ve had over the past five years, and the 16,000 arrests that we with our partners have made over the last five years, I think goes to your question about resources. And I can assure you that if Congress were to see fit to give us more resources for those programs, they would immediately be able to be put to good use.
Klobuchar: Thank you, and this bill I referenced, Mr. Chairman, has bipartisan support in the House as well, and believe it will most likely be part of the Violence Against Women Act when we complete that bill. So thank you.
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